Restaurant chain puts environment on the menu


Feb 26, 2008

HAMILTON -- There's the familiar orange and brown colour scheme and the standard illustrations of strapping men enjoying fat burgers. At first glance, the new Harvey's restaurant on this city's escarpment looks much like many of the fast-food chain's existing 277 outlets across Canada.

A closer look, however, reveals a smaller, leaner and greener Harvey's.

The restaurant has solar shades, energy-efficient lighting and recycling systems that industry insiders say point to a larger industry trend.

There are also other changes. Instead of being nestled within a plaza -- as the older and now-closed restaurant was -- this outlet stands alone in the far corner of a parking lot. It also resembles a shoe box ."After almost 50 years in business, a lot of locations have become stale," said Rick McNabb, Harvey's president. "We want to renovate and refresh the restaurant."

Mr. McNabb said this prototype restaurant is smaller than previous outlets, and contains more durable flooring and materials.

Designers have substantially increased insulation and decreased the number of seats.

The outlet includes a "heat recapture" system that reuses energy from the cooking grills.

The restaurant's design includes an ambitious recycling program.

"Every item can be recycled in the store with the exception of the wrapping," said Mr. McNabb, a former franchise owner who has been president of Harvey's for about a year. "We are looking at aggressive ways of reducing packaging."

Changing its location and giving a store a facelift creates a dramatic sales boost, Mr. McNabb said.

"When you renovate, you can expect a 25% sales increase."

Harvey's will be retrofitting 100 of its locations to be more environmentally friendly while scaling back their menus. Restaurants will also be relocated closer to roads. "We are underdeveloped with our drive-throughs," Mr. McNabb said. "Business will increase significantly because of the higher visibility and access."

The restaurant franchise, in business for 50 years and owned by privately held Cara Operations Ltd. of Mississauga, Ont., plans to build 100 new drive-through locations within the next five years.

The Fennell Avenue store in Hamilton will be used to tweak Harvey's design concept.

"The intent is to be on the leading edge of environmental issues and recycling," Mr. McNabb said, citing operating costs as a major motivator for the overhaul.

"The biggest issue is reducing utility costs; it's better for the bottom line." The changes at Harvey's are part of a trend in the restaurant industry -- and in other sectors -- to turn to green solutions to reduce costs.

The Subway chain recently opened an eco-store in Florida, and McDonald's Corp. is conducting experiments in green initiatives.

"As consumers are increasingly concerned about the environment, restaurants are going to have to show they are doing something," says Valerie Killifer, editor of the online fast-food restaurant industry newspaper, QSR. Ian Rowlands, an environmental policy researcher at the University of Waterloo, said it's important for businesses to look at the total impact of a design environmentally.

"Increased recycling and increased efficiencies are laudable, but what about emissions from idling cars waiting in the drive-through?" said Mr. Rowlands.

"There are pros and cons on both sides of the ledger."